This year has been a real-time case study in business survival. Companies have learned how to adapt and pivot on the fly to stay afloat, but even the best prize fighters can only take so many blows before they hit the canvas. Looking back at the wine country fires of 2017, there was no doubt that the physical toll was devastating, but most physical things can be rebuilt. After the smoke and ash had lifted, the Sonoma and Napa communities transitioned back to a state of normalcy, new bricks were laid to repair what was lost, but things were not the same. Even before COVID was in our collective consciousness, the economic recovery had been slow.
When the 2017 fires ripped through Sonoma and Napa, the eyes of wine-drinkers around the world were transfixed on this apocalyptic scenario that seemingly wiped out the most well-known wine region in the country. At least, that is the way the traditional news and social media outlets tended to portray things. For whatever reason, humans have a twisted, morbid fascination with death and destruction; so the news reports sensationalized the fires to maximize viewership. There would absolutely be no faulting an unassuming viewer on the East Coast from concluding that every winery and vineyard had been completely laid to waste. In reality, this obviously was not the case. Parts of the area had been reduced to rubble, but the vast majority of wineries and tasting rooms were ready to pour copious amounts delectable vino for throngs of eager visitors almost immediately. Yet, the throng never arrived. Nobody did for months. When guests finally did come back to Sonoma and Napa it was a trickle, not a raging Class-5 rapid of visitation that everyone was optimistically hoping for. It made sense because why would anybody unwise to reality come taste wine if everything had been annihilated in an apparent firestorm? In the subsequent months and years since the 2017 fires, the Sonoma and Napa wine industry had to fight and claw to convince people that everything was actually fine for the most part. Progress had been slow yet steady...and then f'ing COVID happened.
And now here we are (unfortunately) again. Back to zero. Although the visitor fallout from the current fires hasn't happened yet, there has to be a lot of uneasy nervousness about a forthcoming exodus of would-be tourists coming into the valleys. COVID has crippled some wineries and tasting rooms, and the ones that are still operating are definitely sustaining themselves on shoestring budgets. When a lingering virus is already a reason to stay away, if consumers are also fearful to visit this wine region when it's still smoldering, it might be too much to handle. So, what is the point in all of this? Why all the waxing ad nauseam about the dire straits of the Northern California wine country? As mentioned before, the intention is not invoke pity but rather help instill solutions to minimize the impact that the industry feels during this crisis. The easiest fix is pretty simple: drink more wine.
Sure, visiting Sonoma or Napa is experience that goes beyond just wine. However, wine is the pillar keeping the local economy upright. It supports the restaurants, the hotels, the tour companies...everything. If all the tourists vacate and nobody is buying wine, the entire system becomes compromised. This is not the time to turn away from the wineries in Sonoma and Napa because they're dealing with a fire. Instead, pour an extra glass for yourself at night (or during lunch, breakfast, etc.) and polish off that bottle. When that bottle is empty, commit yourself to buying six more. Maybe even a case. Perhaps you don't need that wine right now, but it makes a huge impact towards keeping the doors open at your favorite tasting room and the staff employed. If you're feeling safe enough to venture out of your quarantined life, book yourself a trip to Sonoma and Napa when the fires are contained and the smoke has cleared. Chances are you'll be treated like a king/queen because your winery host will be so ecstatic to see you.
The likelihood of Sonoma and Napa getting through this newest setback is undoubted. We are resilient and embrace the challenges that come our way, but your help to get us through these hard times is going to make the process so much easier. Don't believe the doomsayers, drink up, and we'll cheers to the good times soon enough.